I knew the HyperMotard was different by the way Craig Kissell was carefully describing how to best operate and ride the bike. Other employees and even one of the technicians weighed in with their opinions and stories of life on this particular Ducati. By the time I left Kissell Motorsports I had a list of cautions and riding procedures. I wasn't sure if this was standard operating procedure for anyone going out the door with a Ducati or if they felt this scooter rider might be in over his head. Whatever the reason for the first time I climbed onto a motorcycle nervous and uncertain of my skill. Anxious as if I were climbing aboard a Thoroughbred racehorse after years of pleasure riding on a gentle old mare.
Pausing along the road to look at the bike and make a few pictures I was reminded of the grace and power of this motorcycle. I was also reminded of my riding skill and experience and my habit of beginning slow. A beginners mind.
Ducati makes fine motorcycles. It only took a few moments to appreciate the engineering and craftsmanship that work together to create an avid following of riders. After familiarizing myself with the handling of the HyperMotard before sunrise in the parking lot of the Pennsylvania Military Museum I pulled over along a small gravel drive to make a photograph of the evaporating fog under a setting moon.
The Ducati is a powerful motorcycle. At 390 pounds and 90 horsepower it wants to go. Craig warned me that this is not a cruising bike and would complain when the RPMs dropped below 3000 rpm in the wrong gear. The Hypermotard just didn't feel right going slow and I could sense myself wanting to go faster. Definitely not designed for putting along looking for the next picture.
Fast traveling on roads like US 322 is simple. Turn the throttle and the Ducati leaps forward. Developing a sensitive touch on the throttle took a little practice. It's easy to imagine an inexperienced rider having trouble. A bit too much throttle and the bike feels as if it is trying to eject you backwards onto the road. Panic a bit and grab tight on the bars may only succeed in turning the throttle more and making matters worse. Years of careful control of power on my Vespa kept me in the safe zone.
To be completely honest I was nervous riding the HyperMotard, nervous beyond any passing thoughts of dropping an expensive new motorcycle dodging a chipmunk or some other unfortunate riding incident. On this bike I was concerned with the sheer power and how to manage it with the tools I have in my own riding experience toolbox. One thing frequent stops to make pictures does is to give a person a chance to assess what is going on. During this stop I realized I needed to apply the basics, all those simple skills and techniques that have served me well to manage risk. I may not be a beginner in terms of miles under my belt but I try to stay close to a beginners mind and show the respect a motorcycle and riding demands.
Appreciation of the landscape and a desire to capture it on film (you know what I mean) has that unintentional effect of slowing me down. I can't see the little details if I am flying down the road. It does indicate to me that control of the machine is only one part of the equation. Control of myself and the choices I make are just as important. Riding the Ducati I felt a constant pressure to go faster. The temptation is strong.
As empty as this road looks I have been surprised by geese, ducks, deer, dogs and fisherman appearing out of nowhere. I've passed many riders whose pace far outstrips my own faith that the fellow coming the other direction will do his part not to mention the critters who don't know there is a part to play.
I seem to be standing in or alongside the road more than traveling on it. While fishing the camera out of my riding jacket I heard a truck coming down the road and rounded this corner taking his lane out of the center of the road. When I photographed the red truck he was doing a bit better but not much. The HyperMotard thrives on diving into curves. It's here I have to balance what the bike and I can do against what seems prudent. We all set that line differently. The difference between my Vespa and the Ducati is how the more powerful machine seems to tempt a person towards the edge.
Just so I don't seem like a complete milktoast rider I did push the Ducati where it seemed prudent to do so. And after a couple hours of riding I felt as home on the bike as I do on my scooter. I had tested the brakes in a range of conditions and panic stops and I have to say that compared to anything I've ridden the front brakes on the Ducati startling in how they bite. I worked a bit to become accustomed to them just in case I needed to take advantage of all that stopping power.
At the end of the day I remain a tourist on two-wheels. Speed and performance are lost on me. My habits on the road find other traits more desireable. Still, the HyperMotard was smooth, powerful, and just an elegant piece of mechanical engineering. And given the right locations, skills and circumstances you could really have fun with one of these. I'm sure if Joe Paterno was a rider he would be running to get one.
The Ducati HyperMotard is fast and fun. Those two elements are a challenge to keep under control. If those things appeal to you, if you think you can't handle the potential at your fingertips then the Ducati may be the right motorcycle. For me, it offers too much and I fear my mind may be too weak to manage this bike responsibly. Besides, where would I carry my tripod?
Or in a couple months a Christmas tree??